Celebrations on Indonesian island mark rare total solar eclipse

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The Belitung beach was alive with song, dance, and even prayers as some 7,000 tourists and locals armed with all sorts of solar viewing devices came to the beach to witness a total solar eclipse on Wednesday morning.
The sky turning dark at Belitung's Tanjung Kelayang beach in anticipation of the total solar eclipse.
Muslims gathering on the beach to take part in special "total eclipse prayers". ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Muslims gathering on the beach to take part in special "total eclipse prayers". ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Belitung's Tanjung Kelaya beach and pier packed with spectators. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
A dance performance after the total solar eclipse. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
Cloudy skies had initially threatened to mar the occasion. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD
People watching the eclipse through makeshift glasses. ST PHOTO: ARLINA ARSHAD

BELITUNG (Indonesia) - Mass prayers and dance performances marked celebrations on the Indonesia island of Belitung on Wednesday (March 9) morning, as thousands of locals and foreign tourists bore witness to a total solar eclipse.

The island, located off the east coast of Sumatra, was a prime spot to view the rare phenomenon, which peaked in its totality at close to 8.24am and swept across 12 of Indonesia's 34 provinces.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the sun is completely covered by the sun when viewed from the earth's surface, exposing a circular rim of light.

The last time a total solar eclipse passed over Indonesia was two decades ago on Oct 24, 1995. The next solar eclipse will be on April 20, 2023.

Revellers turned up as early as 5am on Belitung's Tanjung Kelayang beach, where hundreds of Muslims took part in special "total eclipse prayers" held at 7am.

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Housewife Rien, 59, who travelled from Jakarta with her friend Tuty Ekantari, 60, came prepared with special glasses - made using photo film and rubber band - to view the eclipse.

A cloudy sky had initially threatened to mar the special occasion for the thousands gathered on the packed beach, but it cleared up just in time for the spectacle, which began at around 7.20am.

Loud cheers broke out as the sky darkened in anticipation of the main event, with the sheer wonder of the total eclipse leaving many overawed.

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"It was always a gamble, but it came through," said Mr Locky Peters, 25, a bar attendant from Melbourne. "That was the first total solar eclipse that I've seen. It was amazing."

Productions supervisor Irene Simatupang likened the sight to "National Geographic come alive".

"It's so awesome as this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We yelled out loud especially when the sky just turned black," said the 24-year-old, who was with her 56-year father, Jonker Simatupang.

Others, such as 32-year-old police officer Junaidi, were nearly reduced to tears.

"I feel like crying to be able to see the greatness of God," he said.

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